Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
Eli Manning acknowledged the Giants "got a break'' here yesterday when officials ruled that an apparent crucial fumble by Victor Cruz wasn't a fumble after all.
But the buzz among Manning's teammates was more about what their quarterback did with that break than about what Cruz almost broke.
"It all started with [No.] 10; he got hot,'' said Hakeem Nicks, who one play after the controversial call caught the winning pass from Manning in the Giants' 31-27 victory over the Cardinals. "We fed off of his adrenaline.''
Said safety Antrel Rolle: "Eli never budges. We have a great deal of confidence in that guy . . . He keeps his head and he keeps his foot on the pedal.''
Running back Brandon Jacobs, rarely at a loss for words, said, "I'm at a loss for words.''
Fans understandably were concerned after Manning followed his poor preseason with an opening day stinker against the Redskins and a slow start against the Rams in Week 2.
But we all should know better by now. No matter how much Manning lulls us to sleep with his laconic personality and hangdog expressions, the guy consistently is at his best when times are worst.
In leading the Giants back from a 10-point deficit with two touchdowns in 58 seconds, Manning was 7-for-8. In the second half, he was 16-for-20 for 208 yards. And although he lost a fumble to set up an Arizona score, he made it through another game with no interceptions.
Oh, and he added to his lore in the desert, where in February 2008, he found Plaxico Burress on the same side of the same end zone in which Nicks scored, both times exploiting one-on-one coverage in the face of a blitz.
When I asked him whether it's a coincidence or whether there is something specific about his affinity for the place, he said, "The conditions are always nice, and it really is a good place to throw it.''
In Super Bowl XLII, he was 19-for-34 for 255 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The next season against the Cardinals, he was 26-for-33 for 240 yards, three TDs and no INTs. Sunday, he was 27-for-40 for 321 yards. The Giants won all three games.
As has been the case for most of his career, Manning excelled Sunday when the Giants were most in a hurry. He led a frantic 28-second drive for a field goal in the final minute of the first half.
Then there were those two hurry-up possessions late in the fourth, when it appeared the Giants were through after Arizona took a 27-17 lead with 5:16 remaining.
"I don't know what the reason was,'' Manning said, then offered some theories. He said the Cardinals' defense was at its best against the Giants' base offense, particularly its front three linemen.
"They were doing a good job getting extra guys in the box, bringing some blitzes and getting some good pressure,'' he said. But in the hurry-up, the Giants were able to spread out the Cardinals, see what they were up to and do a better job protecting Manning.
After the confusion surrounding the Cruz play, Manning pounced quickly. When rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson stopped, seemingly expecting Manning to look for a short gain to Nicks' back shoulder, the receiver took off for one of the most hallowed plots of earth in Giants history.
They hit pay dirt again.
The Giants now have come from behind 17 times to win in the fourth quarter during the Manning era. "He's done it before,'' Nicks said. "I don't get surprised.'' No one should.